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Within the dense viburnum shrub outside my study window, an orange-red flicker caught my attention until breezes hid it from view. I waited until the leaves again parted to reveal a female cardinal nesting her clutch. Beneath her long tail was the cone-shaped nest of leaves, stems, and twigs. She seemed content, her pointed feather crest bespeaking her authority as mother. For at least two weeks, her body warmth will facilitate the hatching.

This experience of nesting also recalled the Italian sonnet, “God’s Grandeur” composed by the mystic Gerard Manley Hopkins in 1877, the year of his ordination as a Jesuit. In the octet he discounts the evils of Liverpool’s Industrial Revolution dulling the sensitivities of the residents: “…all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil/and wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell…” Yet for the spiritually adept in the sestet, Hopkins images the Holy Ghost “…over the bent/World broods with warm breast and with ah! Bright wings.”

In view of global disease and unrest challenging our way of life, these images afford critical protection and care, there being evil intent upon rocking our foundations and disseminating fear. No one knows the outcome of this upheaval, how it will look like or when it will occur. Within quiet cloisters of our hearts, we watch and wait and pray. In the religious history of the world, there has always been a remnant that has survived and told the story to those willing to listen. Perhaps this will be our experience.

However this crisis works out, we’re always sheltered from harm like fledglings warmed by nesting birds, both natural and supernatural. Such is our God-given faith.

 

 

It is bone silent, mysterious. Outside my opened window, night’s residue meanders among the branches of the fresh-leaved redbud tree.

A solitary chirp nudges the stillness like a symphony conductor tapping his baton upon the music stand seeking the performers’ attention. It is beginning. Like the first morning of creation, more chirps swell the darkness, intermingled with a piercing trill; then warbles; then whistles; then pipes; then chucks; then full-throated songs color the tracings of light in the sky. The chorus becomes unbearable until it subsides into isolated sighs. Then, stillness returns like a brooding mother.

Unfortunately, our calloused culture has lost the spiritual sense of birds, reflected in centuries-old myths, legends, and folklore of numerous cultures. For example, indigenous peoples living along the Pacific Northwest Coast revered the Raven as bearer of light to humans, lost in impenetrable darkness. Closer to our time, the Brothers Grimm’s discovery of two folk tales, “The Raven,” and “The Seven Ravens,” nuance the storytellers’ imaginative handling of this image as it evolved through time.

In other parts of the world, birds possessed supernatural powers as co-creators and messengers of the gods.

A deeper study of the seasonal presence of birds in our backyards, especially at dawn, suggests a Divine order at work, now as well as in past epochs. Their display of color-sounds still occurs each morning. We have only to be still and listen and  swell with hope.

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